(GAZA CITY, 26 August 2008) – The FREE GAZA and LIBERTY will leave Gaza for Cyprus on Thursday morning at 9:00 am. Several Palestinian students who have been denied exit visas by Israel will travel to Cyprus on the boats. One Palestinian professor will finally be able to go back to teaching in Europe and one young Palestinian woman will finally be reunited with her husband. Several of the Free Gaza international human rights workers will remain in Gaza to do human rights monitoring.
By freely traveling to Gaza, on Saturday, August 23rd, in two small wooden boats, the Free Gaza Movement forced the Israeli government to issue a fundamental policy change regarding their military and economic blockade of Gaza. Until now, Israel has wanted absolute control of Gaza with no responsibility. Israel has managed to maintain this situation, in spite of international law, because its policies have never been challenged.
When the FREE GAZA and LIBERTY approached the waters of Gaza, the Israeli government had to decide whether it wanted to publicly acknowledge that Israel remains an occupying power in Gaza, in which case Israel would be responsible under international law for its actions, including war crimes. In the face of intense, public scrutiny, Israel instead chose to acknowledge the inherent right of Palestinians to freely engage with the world. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs publicly announced that humanitarian and human rights missions to Gaza will no longer be stopped or threatened by Israel. With the end of the Israeli siege of Gaza, Palestinians are free to exercise their rights without fear of being stopped or killed by the Israeli military.
Since the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement will not be entering Israeli territorial waters, and since they will request an inspection from the Gaza Port Authority, they expect no interference on the part of the Israeli authorities when they leave Gaza. By Israel’s own admission, it has no authority to inspect the boats or the passengers when they leave Gaza.
With the collapse of the Israeli blockade, the Free Gaza Movement will quickly return to Gaza with another delegation, and invites the United Nations, Arab League and international community to organize similar human rights and humanitarian efforts. The Free Gaza Movement will continue to work to ensure the free passage between Gaza and the outside world will remain safe and open.
For More Information, Please Contact:
(Gaza) Paul Larudee: +972 598 765 370
(Gaza) Huwaida Arraf: +972 599 130 426
(Cyprus) Osama Qashoo: +357 97 793 595 / email@example.com
(Jerusalem) Angela Godfrey-Goldstein: +972 547 366 393 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Some Activists' letters from Gaza
Greta’s notes as to the arrival and yesterday’s fishing trip (a quick note to clarify the warning shots issue raised): When we came in on Saturday, the Palestinians thought we were coming (if we even made it) in the morning. The boats came out to wait for us and were fired on by the Israeli military. However, when we finally got there in the afternoon, the Israelis had completely disappeared, and there were no shots.
Yesterday when we went fishing, it was fantastic. Again, the Israeli military boats, complete with a man at the back of each one holding a machine gun at us, never fired. There were too many media and too many of us. They just buzzed back and forth impotently. But, when a Palestinian fishing boat came out to fish and wasn't part of our original six boats, these gunboats made him go back to port. So we are a far cry from liberating anyone.
There were 46 people on board, but two of them, Al Jazeera and Ramatan, were journalists. The rest were activists. Greta
Earlier she wrote:
I sat at the front of the fishing boat, one of six that went out this morning. They are old wooden boats, outfitted with bits and pieces of mechanical parts, rope twisted together and fishing nets. Israel has refused to let Palestinians fish in their own waters for the past 15 months. Even before that, they restricted Palestinian fishermen to around 6 miles. Now, they shoot holes in the boats and in the fishermen if they are caught farther out than about a kilometer.
So today, 19 of us were going along to break a different kind of siege... the denial of Palestinian rights to fish, something every other country bordering the Mediterranean has. Only Palestinians are told they can't fish for their livelihood, provide for their families and contribute to their own economy. We decided that, since we sailed into Gaza (one fisherman told us we were the first boats to come into the port in 35 years; they have been forced to buy everything from Israel, who charges them exhorbitant fees to buy their own fish back).
Twenty of us arrived at the port about 4:30, sleepy and stumbling about amid the dozens of security men standing there guarding us. We were told we'd have to wait, because the fishermen were afraid to go out to sea with us, uncertain whether they would be shot at or worse. Finally, four hours later, six boats showed up, and we boarded, two or three to a boat. The port is small but perfectly adequate for these boats plus our own two that were on the dock front to back. The media climbed into one of them, escorting us out.
All the Palestinians said they wanted to go our past the six mile limit. They were as eager as we were to test the noose hanging around their necks. At 8 miles, three Israeli patrol boats showed up, buzzing up and down in front of us, a man on a machine gun at the back of each one. The boat I was accompanying was owned by six cousins, the youngest 15, and they were, at first, nervous when the patrol boats showed up. I'm sure the Israelis were having a coronary wondering what to do with us, but they left us alone. I'm sure their media will now say they 'escorted us' out to sea, but that would be a lie.
Six hours later, the men had caught more fish in their nets than they had in four years. They were ecstatic, and I got to watch them haul the tons of fish up and over the back of the boat, sort them, water them down, they pick out the best 8 inch shrimp to cook for my friend, Moussa, and me. By the time we pulled back into port twelve hours later, my skin was bright pink from the sun, they were overjoyed with their catch, and the boats that went out would provide an income for over 16 families for a month.
"Will you come tomorrow? Will you come and fish again?" And, of course, we can't. They had challenged Israel's horrible siege on them, and, today, they won. But without us, will the Israeli come back tomorrow and get even?
We can hope that these men will be able to go out once more and do what generations of men have done... go fishing.
Mary’s notes as to their day the day before yesterday: It was a day of smiles and a day of tears for me here in Gaza City. Another early press conference, followed by a visit to the hospital which has seen most of the carnage created in Gaza by Israeli bombs and rockets. The doctor related some of the difficulties faced by the population of Gaza. That 50 chldren have died because Israel refused to let them enter Israel for treatment. The reason given by Israel? The mothers were under 35 years old and could be terrorists. So the children died. He told us that so far 242 people have died during the siege because of Israel's refusal to allow them to get the treatment they need. And that there have been 300 deliveries at checkpoints, resulting in 69 babies dead.
Next we visited a room whose walls were filled with horrific photographs of injured and dying and dead children and babies. On the table was a collection of fragments of Israeli artillery -- rockets, bombs, shrapnel, bullets...
Next to visit some patients. We didn't see any victims of this violence there. One small boy, clearly very ill, maybe 7 or 8 years old. He held his mother's hand and tried to smile at us at she told us he will die without an operation that cannot be performed in Gaza. The Israelis won't let him into Israel or the West Bank for treatment.
Then we went to the neonatal unit where a dozen babies you could hold in your hand were struggling to survive in patched up incubators. Some were just tiny, some had bandages, all were breathing through tubes. Their tiny chests rose and fell, some moved, opened their eyes, cried out, waved arms or legs. They didn't seem to be ill, just very tiny. In an American hospital I'm sure they would all survive and thrive. Here we know their lives are fragile because they depend on the electricity it takes to keep their incubators working.
They are just little babies... all different. Some fair, some darker, some red faced... some with hair, some without. They could be Arab babies, or Jewish babies, or Christian babies, or Muslim babies. They are Palestinian babies, and they deserve to grow into healthy Palestinian children and adults. I wonder how it can be that some people believe the lives of Palestinian babies are less precious than those of any others?
We went to the kidney dialysis unit, where 7 or 8 adults were getting their treatment. The doctors told us that often the patients must wait for hours until there is enough electricity for the machines. Israel usually allows them 12 hours of electricity per day, but sometimes only 6, so they constantly fear the machines will stop in the middle of treatment, which sometimes happens. They said also that Israel will not let them import necessary parts to keep the machines, and the incubators, operating properly, or let them have the solution needed to cleanse the blood of the dialysis patients.
And then to lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Hanyeh at his house inside the refugee camp. He greeted each of us individually, and told us we are now citizens of Palestine. He placed a large medal around each of our necks and spoke to us about who we are, and we were able to respond. After lunch he led us into several of the tiny houses, often a single room without furniture, where he and we were greeted warmly by the Prime Minister's neighbors and their children.
As always the people and the children were friendly and welcoming, greeting us with smiles and reaching out their hands to us. Many of the women folded me and the other women into their arms, or touched our faces, and kissed us, always telling us "thank you for coming" or "welcome to Gaza." The children were everywhere, running through the narrow alleyways of the camp, waving to us, calling out to us "what's your name?" and a few hiding behind their mothers, too shy to come near us. One little boy of around three dragged his green blanket around in the narrow little alley, reminding me of my own granddaughter who drags around a green blanket that I knitted for her when she was born.
Afterwards we went to the big outdoor market in downtown Gaza City. There are so many people... it's such a little strip of land for a million and a half people. Everywhere they waved to us, smiled, held up their fingers in a peace sign. A flatbed truck pulled up beside our bus and we were entertained by a band playing just for us. We walked a lot today, and saw a thousand smiling faces.
Tonight we were entertained by Ramattan TV Network which had a journalist on our boat FREE GAZA. They showed a 6 minute film they have already made of our journey and our arrival in Gaza. There were many tears as we re-lived our rough voyage when many of us were seasick throughout the night, and frightened at the the thought - the expectation even - that we would suddenly be set upon by craft from Israel's Navy which had warned us we would not be allowed to reach Gaza. And then cheers and smiles when we saw again the incredible greeting we had received as we sailed into Gaza port. There must have been 60 or 70 boats at least, and more than a hundred people in the water swimming beside our boats, or climbing aboard.
So here we are in Gaza, and we haven't seen a single Israeli with a gun. Just three unarmed Israelis who sailed with us on this remarkable voyage [Jeff Halper, and two American Israelis – residents of San Jose, California, the twins Donna and Darlene Wallach – ed. AG-G].
The last news we received tonight was that the people of Gaza City will build a square for us and name it Free Gaza Square. And all of our names will be displayed there, along with one of our boats (or a replica if we choose not to leave one of our boats behind when we go).
Tomorrow at 4:30 AM some of us are going out with the Gaza fishermen in their boats to see what we can catch. We hope our presence will provide some degree of protection for these men and boys who risk injury and death from Israeli guns each time they try to work their trade in the waters off the coast of Gaza.
with love from Mary in Gaza City
Previous: Gaza at last! A word from Mary in Gaza
I woke up this morning wondering if it was all a dream. And then I looked through the window and saw the harbor, and the fishing boats, and our two proud little boats, the FREE GAZA and the LIBERTY, bobbing gently in the Gaza breeze and I could finally believe we are here!
There are not enough words to describe the feelings we all had as we saw the shores of Gaza appear on our horizon, and then as we got closer and closer we were welcomed by the first of dozens of fishing boats, all crowded with cheering, waving Gazans who had waited since early morning for our arrival. Dozens of them jumped into the water and climbed aboard our boats, cheering and waving and hugging everybody, smiling and telling us "you are welcome." I don't know how so many members of our welcoming committee managed to crowd onto the two piers.... women, men, children, a band playing for us, police trying to control them as more of them jumped into the water to reach us.
It was truly an experience for a lifetime. Surreal. After two years of planning and hoping, and disappointments, and great sadness when our beloved friend Riad was suddenly gone from us. But his spirit is here with us, and many of us wore pink shirts in his memory.
There is so much more to say, but for now this is just to say we have arrived, we are elated, we are humbled, we could not have achieved this without the support of so many friends and strangers who believed in us.
Shukran, and love to all of you.
Mary in Gaza City
Source: press release
Original article published on Aug. 26, 2008
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URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=5772&lg=en